Sri Lanka usually doesn’t often get good press in the west. Rights violation at the end of the war against the Tigers, summary executions and the plight of the Tamil refugees mostly make up stories on Sri Lanka. The government’s attitude too has been confrontational; British journalists have been thrown out, a Swiss reporter was about to be thrown out and so on.
A January-story in the New York Times (NYT) provided a rare layer of balm. It placed Sri Lanka at the top of the list of `31 places to go in 2010’. (Mysore, rather inexplicably I thought, was on 4).
``The island, with a population of just 20 million, feels like one big tropical zoo: elephants roam freely, water buffaloes idle in paddy fields and monkeys swing from trees,’’ the NYT piece said.
Since then, the same government has not lost a single opportunity to mention the NYT story in its tourism promotion programmes. I doubt that the government would have been so enthusiastic about a few NYT editorials on the war written in April and May last year.
But coming back to tourism, the recovery of the sector in the post-war era would indeed give some impetus to Sri Lanka’s economy and image.
There’s some improvement already. The tourist arrival statistic for 2010 January is over 50000. In 2009, it was around 37000. Travel agents and hotel managers told me that there’s been a steady rise in tourists, heading for the southern beaches.
According to the Tourism ministry annual reports of 2007 and 2008, majority of western tourists came from UK, Germany, France and the USA.
The Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau took its worldwide 'Destination Sri Lanka' and 'Visit Sri Lanka 2011' campaigns to the New York Times 2010 Travel Show held last weekend. Similar programmes were launched in Brussels.
India is the closest and largest market and makes for the biggest chunk for tourists. In 2007, 106,067 Indians came here. The number was 85,238 in 2008. Tourism officials are hoping for a sharp increase in Indian tourist turnout in 2010 as well.